tv Al Jazeera World News LINKTV March 5, 2013 7:00pm-7:30pm PST
these films are so popular because they minister to a need in the audience to believe the whole american experiment is a success. war is mostly boredom, long periods of boredom, punctuated by terrifying madness and surrealism. but it's impossible to actually show. (explosions) annenberg media ♪ and: with additional funding from these foundations and individuals: and by:
and the annual financial support of: hello, i'm john lithgow. welcome to "american cinema." sam fuller, a great director and a veteran, says the only way to make a war movie realistic is to have someone with a rifle stand behind the screen and shoot at the audience because war is so gruesome that nothing on the screen can ever really capture it. during world war ii, hollywood produced films which softened war realities with tales of heroism and valor.
the platoon of "bataan" and "guadalcanal diary" portrayed an america true to its ideal, if not its reality; a model of ethnically diverse americans working together. there was always a tension between hollywood's portrayal and filmmakers' experiences. directors like john ford and sam fuller, who had really seen battle, brought a deeper urgency and understanding to the films they made. they left a legacy for the next generation. when it came to vietnam, the conventions of hollywood didn't match the soldiers' reality. filmmakers like francis ford coppola, michael cimino and oliver stone recreated modern war with a vision that was grippingly realistic, but sometimes surreal. with narrator mathew modine, we'll see the tradition of telling war stories is as old as conflict itself in "the combat film."
(heavy breathing) (thumping of heart beating) (explosion) ah, you'll live, smitty. you just trip wired a mine. they're not made to kill ya', just to castrate ya'. (narrator) you've seen him in every war film. he's the guy that's wet behind the ears, facing fear by himself in an agony that is both terrifying and exhilarating. (gunfire)
(dramatic music playing) (narrator) it is this experience that combat film tries to recreate for the audience. (buzzing of flies) you're on point. me? no friendlies out there. got a full load. (narrator) from world war i to vietnam, hollywood has rendered portraits of the brutal life of the combat grunt. (bugle playing) (narrator) it all started in world war i. that was different from any war before or since.
william wellman's "wings" was the first movie to win an academy award for best picture. wellman drew on his experiences as a fighter pilot in ww i. the first war movie i saw that i fell in love with was still and is still the best war picture ever made, called "all quiet on the western front." and it was an honest picture because it was against war. (narrator) during ww i, lewis milestone served with the signal corps. his first-hand knowledge of the horrifying slaughter in the trenches inspired a powerful anti-war statement. (yelling and explosions) the second world war was a lot harder to fight for the people who fought it than the first. one reason was that the cinema between the wars had developed a great tradition of anti-war movies.
(narrator) it was a different story with world war ii. the office of war information mobilized hollywood studios to help out the war effort, keep up morale at home, and motivate the draftees. ♪ bless 'em all ♪ the distinctive thing about the combat squad is that the squad is the hero. the crew is the hero. prior to the second world war, if you look at americans they would tend to admire rugged individualists. hollywood will tend to favor the cheeky newspaper reporter, the gangster, the private eye. (singing) come on. snap it up! dig in, will ya'? maybe if we dig deep enough, we'll come up in ebbits field! i'm practically standin' on second base right now! in the second world war you don't need the solo heroes, you don't need sergeant yorks, the independent hot dogs. and the recurrent message of the second world war film
is to subsume individuality. (narrator) career officer to enlisted man, everyone was portrayed as part of a team that would not allow for a loner. now, get this into your head. we all belong to this airplane. every man has got to rely on every other man to do the right thing at the right time. you've played football. you know how one man can gum up the whole works. an ideal platoon in these films is really a very profound image which gratifies the audience, anxious for some evidence the whole american experiment is a success. seems to me i saw you box somewhere. maybe thanksgiving, on the olympics club? (narrator) platoons were not integrated, as hollywood portrayed them. matthew hardy, private, 12th medical battalion. alex ramirez, private, provisional tank corps.
national guard? yeah, 192nd tank battalion, california. wesley epps, private, 3rd engineer battalion. (narrator) the office of war information sanctioned all film scripts, using hollywood to best effect in the propaganda war. "i'm glad to report that mgm's 'bataan' appears to offer no problems from an owi overseas standpoint. it makes an especially good contribution in its handling of the u.n., especially the philippinos." what do you think you're doing, soldier? plenty j--- over there, tanks, artillery. i go tell general mcarthur, general sends planes; planes drop bombs on j---. bang! fourth of july! it's easy to understand why these films are all the same during the war, because they are being -- their manufacture is supervised by office of war information. it's harder to understand something interesting,
which is why these conventions persist without censorship. (paul fussell) it's as if audiences demanded that films follow conventions because those conventions produce feelings and emotions which universally graty the audience. (narrator) the second world war gave birth to a new type of film, the combat picture. all right. (explosion) (narrator) by design or default, hollywood devised its own rules and formulas that filmmakers have used ever since. father! father donelly! he's been hit! he'll be all right. it's a concussion. don't burrow in so deep.
next time cushion yourself on your elbows. at ease. let's get organized before the j--- fly reconnaissance. (paul fussell) well, i think the films of the second world war established paradigms which are still exploitable in movies dubbed as "the democratic platoon." interestingly, the films that come from the vietnam war, which one might expect to be quite different from the films from the second war, have very little difference. (distant explosions) (narrator) though hollywood established powerful conventions, (gunshot)
that did not prevent filmmakers from rendering their personal experiences of war. their memories have inspired some of the most powerful films hollywood has made. i can't murder anybody. we don't murder. we kill. it's the same thing. the h--- it is, griff. you don't murder animals. you kill them. (narrator) sam fuller made his first combat film in 1950. before serving in world war ii, he was a hobo, reporter and screenwriter. (sirens) many filmmakers served their country,
william wyler john huston john ford darryl zanuck and actors like robert montgomery and lee marvin. combat films were transformed by their experiences of battle. (explosion) in may 1944, lieutenant-colonel d. zanuck was stationed in england directing the signal corps unit. ♪ there'll be a hot time ♪ in the town of berlin ♪ when the yanks ♪ go marchin' in ... ♪ (narrator) the allied armies were forming the largest invasionary force of the 20th century. zanuck's job was to document their training followed by the d-day invasion. ♪ when the brooklyn boys ♪ begin ♪ to take the joint apart ♪ and tear it down
♪ when they take ♪ old berlin ♪ (narrator) sam fuller was a lieutenant in the big red one infantry stationed near exeter. he was training for the landing of americans on omaha beach. the big red one's task was to punch a hole in the enemy, then form a beachhead through which the main force could pass into normandy and on to berlin. ♪ after they take berlin ♪ (narrator) fuller and zanuck had different perspectives of d-day. zanuck had a bird's eye view. he saw himself as an historian, the chronicler, documenting every detail of june 6th, 1944. fuller had a worm's eye view. he wanted to tell the story of grunts and their sergeant. i met sam in the early 60s. he's my kind of style of a storyteller.
so he said, "you know, i'm doing this thing called 'the big red one' and you'll play the sergeant." and i said, "oh, yeah. sure. right." and then as the years went by and he finished other projects he sat down one day and he wrote it. and he sent me a copy and i was absolutely thrilled. it's possibly one of the few combat stories i ever thought that made any sense to me. i didn't want to compete with some highly exciting war movies. i saw, "iwo jima" "the longest day." i've seen things like that, wonderful, wonderful epics. i was not interested in trying to top them. i was only knowledgeable about one thing, i could not shoot it. theirs was fake and i didn't want mine to be fake. (announcer) omaha beach, d-day ... (sam fuller) every 5 minutes a wave came in, 32 infantrymen in a boat.
the first wave was 6:30. the second wave was 6:35. the third wave 6:40, every five minutes. (sam fuller) we can't get off. we can't go back. over 3,000 was dead on the beach. the incredible story of d-day and the invasion of nazi europe always fascinated me. it was unquestionably the most hazardous mission in history.
(sam fuller) by the time i made up my mind how to shoot omaha beach, i decided just to show a man's watch in the channel and the wave going over it and the wave going over it, and very gradually it shows you the time. it's 7:00, it's 7:30, 7:35. it starts getting pink at 7:40. and it's 8:00, it's 8:30 and it starts getting redder. and by 9:25 it's blood red, and i thought that, for me, was the best visual, as close as i can be to realism through one source: blood. (gunfire and explosions)
in restaging d-day for "the longest day," there must have been 10,000, more or less, troops involved. frenchmen in american uniforms for the most part, four countries involved. (plane nosediving to the ground) (darryl zanuck) only the actual invasion itself was probably more complicated in the logistical staging of this re-creation. my father had a passion for world war ii, particularly the normandy invasion because he was in the signal corps. and he was in charge of the photographic unit
that actually landed, and he came in sometime later. he landed behind the troops. and he was always fascinated, ah, about telling that story and re-creating that event on film. (darryl zanuck) he wanted a director from each of the 4 major countries, but, in truth, they were really more second unit directors. my father was the main director for the whole operation and did most of the american and english episodes himself. sorry i'm late. better than never, sir. glad to see you. (explosion) your boy's right on target. what's the situation? germany's regrouping over there in the woods about a mile, sir. there's a lot of mortars and heavy machine guns.
numbers? no idea, shimmy, they seem to be moving forward and forward! i guess we won't wait. better get moving. all right, we're going across! nevelin. black beer, sir! come on! everybody up! on your feet! (bagpipes playing) zanuck wants to create nothing short of a filmic epic, a great expression of the grandeur and glory of the american experience in the second world war, a great production. he wants to be the "homer" of the second world war. (thomas doherty) i think what sam fuller wants to do in his films is tell, as much as a filmmaker can, what it was like to be there. (explosion)
(thomas doherty) he wants to capture the gestures, the vernacular. the small moments the combat grunt experiences, and he wants to do it in a very tight close-up. he wants things to happen unexpectedly. he also wants to remove sentimentality from the platoon. when we were in czechoslovakia, they gave us an assignment, not knowing this was the last assignment of the war, the very last. and they said that there's a camp there, (crashing sounds as doors open) (sam fuller) and they didn't say, "kill everybody." they wouldn't have to. they said, in effect, "take it."
this was a concentration camp. we found out it's a concentration camp. we opened doors. we saw what it was. we saw another door, a stone house and several naked bodies were thrown in the bogs. captain richmond said, "have you got the camera your mother sent you?" and i said, "yes, sir." "get it!" didn't explain anything. (sam fuller) now, you take a picture. the town's name is falkanow. (grating sound of old movie projector) (sam fuller) that's the first time i used a movie camera. i never thought i'd use it.
(narrator) the combat experience changed directors physically, mentally. while directing the documentary john ford took over the camera when his cameraman was killed. ford himself was later shot in both legs and lost sight in his left eye. ford's experience of combat shaped "they were expendable," an elegy navy picture about sacrifice and defeat made at the end of the war. during the war, ford held the rank, lieutenant commander in charge of the field photographic branch at the office of strategic services. he was glad to get away from hollywood. he'd always wanted to be a naval man from way, way back. he failed to get into annapolis when he was a young man and went to hollywood.
(narrator) ford's end-of-war hommage to those that served starred robert montgomery and john wayne. slug, he was always quotin' verse... (narrator) wayne had built a reputation as a b-movie tough. bits of poetry... (narrator) but ford changed all that. so here's one for him. it's about the only one i know. under the wide, starry sky, dig the grave and let me lie, glad that i lived and gladly die. many of these hollywood films were made according to device. "okay, we gotta make a war picture." again, "we gotta make a picture that'll make people want to join the army." (lindsay anderson) "they were expendable" is an extraordinary personal film.
ten-hut! at ease. (lindsay anderson) it's a film, if you like, where heroism equated service. you're a swell bunch. i'm glad to have been able to serve with you. i'd like to tell you we're going to bring back help, but that wouldn't be the truth. we're going down the line to do a job. you're going to bataan with the army. that isn't your training, but they need your help. you older men with experience, take care of the kids. maybe...
that's all. god bless you. (lindsay anderson) ford was serving with the navy throughout the war. he believed in what might nowadays be called "the myth of the navy, of service, of heroism." where every character in it is filled with such conviction, reality, if you like, that they are -- they exist in themselves, not to move the story along. (lindsay anderson) what gives the film its power is the fact that ford was a poetic filmmaker and so his people came to represent something greater than themselves.
ford's attitude is different from that of very many people and is very heartfelt. (singing "glory hallelujah") (lindsay anderson) the eloquence of that moment, the time which is taken to accommodate the expression being felt at that moment. it's absolutely not a conventional action tempo of a hollywood picture. this reply is a full acceptance of the pottsdam declaration which specifies unconditional surrender of japan.
(narrator) with the end of the war, the partnership between washington and hollywood ended, yet audiences still wanted a victory parade... (narrator) the combat film developed a momentum of its own that can still be felt today. ♪ one, two, three, four ♪ one, two -- three, four! ♪ your baby was lonely ♪ as lonely could be ♪ ain't it great ♪ to have a pal ♪ who worked so hard ♪ to keep up morale ♪ sound off, one, two ♪ sound off, three, four ♪ one, two, three, four ♪ one, two -- three, four! ♪ you ain't got nothin' ♪ to worry about ♪ he'll keep her happy ♪ 'til i get out ♪ there she goes.
(music playing) (cheers) a whole generation of teenagers of world war ii and beyond who saw "wake island" and "sands of iwo jima" and "flying leathernecks" and "guadalcanal diary" and those kinds of movies probably got their first impression of what the corps was through the movies. these films depicting the second world war are so popular and successful in part because they minister
to a need in the audience to believe them. (paul fussell) to believe that john wayne is a heroic soldier and distinguished troop leader. at ease. (candidates yelling) how we doin' there, delta company? (candidates yelling) settle down now. i'm lieutenant frades. and today we're going to look at a subject that probably is not new to all of you. in one form or fashion you've been in trench warfare. you've seen movie warriors and their hard-charging leaders running up the hills, assaulting those beaches, and reducing those bunkers. now get that motivation up. we're going to look at some of those scenes now. you've probably seen these in the movies. (yelling)